Can’t see for looking…

Girl with magnifying glassI missed my slot to blog last week; time just ran away with me. Each weekend (either side of the week) was taken up with a concert – Yes and Barry Manilow  (talk about opposite ends of the spectrum) – sandwiching the submission of a short story to a competition, one to TAB Fiction Feast and the completion of week three of my online creative writing course. Add to this a bit of ‘life stuff’ and my week was complete. It’s not an excuse, but as you can see I wasn’t entirely idle.

I started week four of my course yesterday and reflecting back to the previous week realised I’d garnered some useful information.

We were asked to develop the start to a story (200 – 350 words) that was then forwarded to individual students for their critique. I already had a short paragraph sitting in a writing folder and, feeling under pressure to complete the task before the week’s end, unwisely decided to expand this to use as my entry.

The two lots of feedback I received made me stop in my tracks. There were some positive comments, but the criticisms were the most revealing.

Over the years I have read countless books and articles on the art of writing the short story, yet despite their repeated advice to create characters with whom your readers can form an immediate connection and thereby compel them to read on, I had obviously failed to do this. It’s not until the reader tells you they not only failed to engage with the characters in your story, but couldn’t care less (I’m paraphrasing) about their predicament that it pulls you up short.

When I reread my work, I had to agree; I had no interest in the story either, or inclination to discover their fate. If I felt this way, why would my audience feel any different?

The other criticism was that it was unclear as to the genre of the piece, its narrative direction indistinct. I realised I had no idea how to develop it and had little enthusiasm for it anyway.

Readers, like most of us, have limited time to pursue leisurely activities, so they are unlikely to waste that valuable time on a story in which they have no vested interested. If the first couple of paragraphs fail to grip the reader, the chances of them continuing on are slight, no matter how good the rest.

I’m hoping that I can exercise impartiality and try this method as a gauge to measure the efficacy of my work from now on. If I’m not itching to turn the page to find out more, it can be deposited into the editing bin for further rewrites or dumped forever as trash.

How do you evaluate your work? Please comment and let me know.

Before I go… disappointed although not surprised to learn this morning that my entry into the 2014 Mslexia Women’s Short Story Competition failed to make the grade. It was nice though to receive an email that commiserated and encouraged those unsuccessful applicants like myself, rather than leave us spending the time wondering and hoping against the odds. Congratulations to the winners and I look forward to reading their successful stories in the Jun/Jul/Aug issue of the magazine.

Until next time, Happy Writing!

Copyright: julinzy / 123RF Stock Photo

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2 Responses to Can’t see for looking…

  1. Don’t knock yourself up, Julie. In my experience, fellow students on courses are the most severe critics of all, and not always in a positive way. You can reach the point when you’re trying so hard to get so many different things right that you can’t write at all. Bit by bit, I have discarded many of ‘the rules’. For instance, I now use adverbs liberally, albeit appropriately, and adverbial phrases with abandon. If you look at the work of most proper writers, they do too.

    Did you read Fiction Fan’s latest review of Samantha Hayes’ Before You Die’? You want to read what she says about a published author’s development of characters?

    • JWow Admin says:

      Thanks for the advice. I will certainly have a read of that. The problem with writing is, as you say, the conflicting advice. I suppose you just have to go with what feels right to you and ignore everything else.

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